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The Value of Volunteering

Logo: Natural England

Natural England has just over 3000 registered volunteers, without whom we would quickly notice that much of our work simply would not get done.  Together they give us over 33,500 days a year in rain or shine, ohstaying involved for many years and becoming irreplaceable assets for the staff they work with.

Logo: Natural Resources Wales

Our volunteers are an incredibly valuable resource - the value of the time so generously given by all our volunteers was over £3.9 million in 2012/13 (VIVA1).  Our largest group of volunteers, those based on National Nature Reserves, gave us 205,712 hours of their time at a value of over £2.9 million.  The average value per volunteer is just over £1500 a year and for every £1 we invested on supporting the volunteer programme, we get around £8 worth of time back. 

The figures speak for themselves in terms of value for money, but the impact made by volunteer involvement is much wider than the cost versus the benefit.  Our volunteers make a difference – for themselves, for their communities and for the environment.  They are a precious resource for our organisation and an inspiration to us and the communities they have contact with.

Case study – Volunteers at Fenn’s, Whixall & Bettisfield Mosses NNR

Cotton Sedge on Fen's NNR (JL Daniels)
Cotton Sedge on Fen's NNR (JL Daniels)

The NNR:

Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses NNR is a lowland raised bog which straddles the English/ Welsh border, 4 miles from Whitchurch, Shropshire & 10 miles from Wrexham. At 690ha, the NNR is part of the 3rd largest lowland raised peat bog left in Britain. It is managed in a partnership between Natural England and Natural Resources Wales.

Historically the peat bog has suffered extensive damage by peat extraction, drainage, afforestation and agricultural improvement. Restoration of the NNR by raising water levels and removing forests and trees is resulting in re-pickling of the record of the past stored in the peat, keeps the peat carbon in the bog counteracting climate change and allows the rare bog wildlife to thrive.


Volunteers:

Volunteers Surveying (P Bowyer)
Volunteers Surveying (P Bowyer)



Since the site was designated an NNR volunteers have played an
ever-increasing role in helping with its management.Volunteers at the NNR have the opportunity to become involved with most aspects of its management.  They can assist with office work, research projects, surveying and monitoring,  wardening, public events, educational activities and practical works. The later includes habitat management, access works and maintenance tasks. A practical volunteer group meets twice a month and there are volunteering opportunities most days of the week. A range of volunteers work at the site including recent graduates, people looking to work in the conservation sector, retired people, Duke of Edinburgh award students, work experience students from local Schools and Colleges  and longer-term work placement students from Colleges and Universities (often up to 12 months in duration). Volunteers have come from local businesses on corporate team building days, from internal NE and NRW team visits, from local Scout and Girl Guide groups and from an organisation catering for people with learning disabilities.

What do volunteers get out of it?

Practical volunteer group (P Bowyer)
Practical volunteer group (P Bowyer)

Our NNR volunteers learn new skills, gain experience, increase their knowledge and make those all important contacts within the environmental field by working alongside other volunteers, NNR staff, contractors, staff from other conservation organisations and academic institutions. This has often led to employment in the conservation sector. Some of the restoration techniques and academic research carried out on site is ground-breaking and our volunteers have the opportunity to see this in action as well as the normal management and research. PPE and all necessary equipment are provided as well as reasonable travel expenses.  Training is provided in several ways: ‘in-house’ training by staff or by other volunteers (many of our volunteers are experts in various fields particularly species id) or on funded courses (recent examples include brush-cutters, dragonfly surveys, first aid and sit in ATV). A notice-board in the Reserve’s classroom lists any training courses/opportunities with other organisations. These opportunities are also emailed to all volunteers. Once people receive formal training they have the opportunity to gain experience so they can continually improve their skills and development. We value our volunteers highly and host two ‘thank-you’ events for them each year – a BBQ in the summer and a buffet in a local pub at Christmas.


What does the NNR get out of it?

Practical volunteer group (P Bowyer)
Practical volunteer group (P Bowyer)

The restoration of this badly damaged peat bog and on-going site maintenance involves a lot of practical work. Tasks range from low-skilled labour intensive jobs such as pulling pine-seedlings to more skilled works such as installing sheet-piling dams, fencing and constructing boardwalks. The majority of the routine monitoring (including hydrological monitoring and species surveying) is undertaken by volunteers and data gathered from this underpins the management of the site. Many of the NNRs public events, school visits and guided walks are led by volunteers and they man local shows and events. Volunteers make a massive contribution to the NNR and have become an integral part of the sites management. In 2012 there were 1800 volunteer days – this is equivalent to an extra 6 staff working alongside the NNRs 4 paid staff. There are currently around 100 volunteers registered at the Reserve providing invaluable assistance. There is a good camaraderie amongst the volunteers and NNR staff. Critically our volunteers also act as ‘ambassadors’ for the NNR in the local and wider community which is very important to the success of the restoration project.

1 Volunteer Investment and Value Audit (VIVA) is a respected method of calculating the value of volunteering time in the Third Sector

Find out more at http://bit.ly/17BpCpb  

Peter Bowyer, Senior Reserve Manager Fenn’s, Whixall and Bettisfield Mosses NNR

Natural England
Tel. 01948 880362
e-mail peter.bowyer@naturalengland.org.uk

First published in CJS Focus on Volunteering in affiliation with the Association of Countryside Volunteers on 23 September 2013

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